Seeing the world without leaving the state

Probably checking my pockets for my passport
Probably checking my pockets for my passport

Oh, hey there readers! It’s me, that guy who still writes a column for the KJ and Morning Sentinel.

I actually had this one published a couple of weeks ago, but it sat in my blog drafts and I kept forgetting to post it. I’ve been meaning to have this adventure and write about it for well over a year, but I got around to it late last month.

It’s as introspective as you’ve come to expect, and it has M*A*S*H references for the second column in a row. NICE. Enjoy!

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

– unknown 

I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve read or heard the above quote, from friends near and far, throughout my 20s, mostly in relation to world travel. To be more specific, mostly in relation to trips where something went haywire en route.

But I’m a control freak. Always have been. I’m a firm believer that “planning the trip” is just as much fun as the vacation itself. I’m the type who uses Google Street View to see what sort of interesting bars, restaurants and sights are within however-many miles of the hotel, and often has a list of things to see, do and eat when I’m heading to a particular city. So while I definitely understand the sentiment of the aforementioned quote, and agree with the concept, I have trouble believing I could look back on travel mishaps or detours with something resembling affection.

Well, I should say “had trouble.” That might have changed last weekend.

Back in 2013, when I first started working for the newspaper, I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the different towns in Maine that shared a moniker with somewhere else in this wide world. Every time someone at work referred to China, or Moscow, or Belfast, or Poland, I’d offer, “China China, or China, Maine?” as a genuine response, and it seemed that I learned of a new one as each day passed. There’s even one similar to an Australian city, although we spell it “Sydney” rather than “Sidney.”

So when one of my coworkers finally saw fit to mention to me that, somewhere west of Augusta, not too far from the New Hampshire border, there’s a sign that lists many, if not all of, those towns.

My mind was immediately drawn to the TV show “M*A*S*H,” in which the camp had a signpost with boards indicating the distance and directions of the 4077th members’ home cities. As I mentioned in my last column, I grew up watching M*A*S*H with my dad and figured he’d get a kick out of seeing something similar to what was depicted in the show.

So “visit Lynchville’s World Traveler Sign” went onto the to-do list in June 2014, and finally got crossed off last Sunday.

I had asked some friends a couple of days in advance if they wanted to come on an adventure with me, for the purposes of writing a column, and they agreed. In my trip-planning brain, I had tried to map out a route that would maximize the number of foreign-sounding towns we’d drive through on the way to and from, with the hopes of doing some cursory exploring and – okay, okay – posing in front of a few “Welcome to [Foreign-Sounding Town]” signs for a laugh.

But as is wont to happen on Sundays, we got a late start, and as is wont to happen on days off with plans, the day was a rainy one. Having already made commitments for later in the afternoon, we were somewhat shorter on time than we had originally intended. Our route took us through Winthrop and then Wayne, which I can’t even say in my head without making the “Wayne, Maine” rhyme, past Leeds (also an English city, so there’s another one), across the Androscoggin and then south towards Turner.

It was in Turner that we came across our first “destination/journey” conundrum, and it was hardly a conundrum at all. We’d stumbled upon an apple orchard and hard cider distillery.

“Should we check it out, do a tour?”

“Sure – I mean…when are we ever going to be out this way again?”

As I said, not a difficult decision. After sampling some of the wares and learning about the intricacies of apple-sorting machines (I was genuinely stunned by how technologically complex the process is), we continued west towards Buckfield. The next half-hour of the journey saw us tickled by the sight of a large gas station with “Buckfield Mall” emblazoned on the awning, and the editor in me momentarily concerned at the spelling of the name of a roadside local tavern, Captain Bly’s, before realizing it took the proprietor’s last name and not that of the famous captain from “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

And then, at long last, we hit Paris and then Norway, both looking decidedly less European than one “from away” might imagine. We might have missed the Arc de Triomphe, but my impressions of the Oxford County town were “quaint,” and “there’s definitely some history here.”

Allow me to skip ahead briefly to the journey home, where we passed through Peru on our way down Rt. 108, which runs alongside the section of the Androscoggin that separates Rumford from Mexico. Suffice it to say, the “south of the border” land we saw back in May features terrain somewhat different from its Vacationland counterpart, but I got a kick out of it all the same. I’ve since learned, via the New York Times archives, that both Peru and Mexico were named the way they were due to townspeople’s admiration for the respective countries’ fights for independence. There never is a shortage of interesting things to learn about Maine.

But back to the “destination.” We did indeed find the World Traveler Sign, on the intersection of Routes 5, 35 and 118, perched on a very tourist-photo-friendly platform beside a lawn festooned with an assortment of quirky ornaments. I counted a Bigfoot, a Yeti (are they the same thing?), some overgrown snails and a red London phone booth. We took a couple of pictures, peered at the curiosities on the neighboring yard, then got back into the car and headed home.

So while the end point of the world-traveling Walkabout was somewhat underwhelming, I got to take in some more of “real Maine” as well as learning a bit of a lesson.

The journey really can be worth more than the destination.


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